I had high hopes for Vinyl - but it turned out to be a festival of dad nostalgia

I can't remember the last time I was so bored by a big-budget TV show. In fact, I only made it halfway through the first episode.

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The mind boggles at the thought of the meeting at which Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger first discussed ideas for Vinyl (15 February, 9pm), a TV series set in the music
industry in 1970s New York. How long, I wonder, did it take them to work themselves up into the necessary frenzy of self-love and mutual adoration? What was on the turntable as they did so? Not Slade, I assume (Slade got some stick in the first episode, for all that “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” lingered on the soundtrack); and probably not Abba, either, whom one character described, wrinkling his nose, as some kind of “girl band”. Perhaps they just played old Rolling Stones hits, jigging around creakily as they remembered the time when New York was still a stinking dustbin and drugs were as easy to come by as Tootsie Rolls.
Ah, glory days.

I had assumed – hoped! – that Vinyl would be Goodfellas meets Almost Famous. If only. I can’t remember the last time I felt so completely bored by a big-budget TV show (this one comes courtesy of HBO). The first episode was two hours long. I managed an hour, for which I apologise. I take this job seriously and rarely duck my duties – but how long can anyone be expected to watch people alternately take meetings and snort coke? In one scene, Robert Plant (Zebedee Row) berated Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), the record label boss around whom the series is based, for trying to dupe Led Zeppelin into handing over an unfair cut of their royalties. As the two of them yelled percentages at one another, my mind drifted. I once interviewed Plant. The drippy figure on screen couldn’t have been less like him if this were a more-than-usually-ropy edition of Stars in Their Eyes.

Finestra has built his business from the ground. He began as a barman, moved into working as an agent and finally established American Century Records, to which both Slade and Donny Osmond are signed (his story was told in ponderous flashbacks with cheesy voice-overs). But the business is in trouble. Too much cash has gone up Finestra’s nose; Led Zeppelin have signed to another label; an important DJ is refusing to play Donny’s single. People have started to call the company “American Cemetery”. He blames his A&R men. “I want what’s next!” he yells at them unconvincingly, as if he had found the line in a fortune cookie. Up pipes the sandwich girl and office drug dealer, Jamie (Juno Temple). “I’ve got something,” she trills, undaunted by the rampaging sexism in the room. She fancies the Nasty Bits, who are gigging tonight. The singer is a snarling cockney (played by Mick Jagger’s son James), because there had to be at least one, didn’t there?

What a festival of revisionist dad nostalgia this is: a vapid jamboree that seems all the more bizarre when you consider that Jagger was seemingly in the writers’ room. Wasn’t he there then? (I mean in the offices of New York record company executives during the early 1970s.) Yet the whole thing is ersatz, like a Southern Comfort ad gone wrong. None of it convinces, not even the wigs. Especially not the wigs. Perhaps I’m just being dumb. Why expect realism from someone as famous as Jagger? “It is not love of the self but dread of the world outside the self which is the seed of narcissism,” wrote Norman Mailer. In Vinyl, this dread reveals itself in every scene. The world – the real world – is for other writers, other series. This lot can only cope with a facsimile.

In other news, the BBC has begun to screen two new foreign series. The first of these is The People v O J Simpson: American Crime Story (Mondays, 9pm), a drama starring Cuba Gooding, Jr as Simpson and David Schwimmer as his lawyer Robert Kardashian, which I will return to next week, once I have swotted up (apparently, I need some Kardashian expertise to understand its more sly references). The other is Trapped (Saturdays, 9pm), an icy blast of Icelandic noir that I am enjoying mightily. A headless torso, a stranded ferry, a port cut off by snow: we’re a long way from Copenhagen now, Toto – and a long way from Reykjavík, too.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 18 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, A storm is coming